Consensus-based Approach to Managing Opioids, Including Opioid Misuse and Opioid Use Disorder, in Patients with Serious Illness

Protocol for a Modified Delphi Process

Published in: BMJ Open, Volume 11, Issue 5 (May 2021). doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2020-045402

Posted on on September 22, 2021

by Caroline King, Robert Arnold, Emily Dao, Jennifer Kapo, Jane Liebschutz, Diane Meier, Judith Paice, Christine Ritchie, Kristen Czajkowski, Dmitry Khodyakov, et al.

Read More

Access further information on this document at BMJ Open

This article was published outside of RAND. The full text of the article can be found at the link above.


Management of opioid misuse and opioid use disorder (OUD) among individuals with serious illness is an important yet understudied issue. Palliative care clinicians caring for individuals with serious illness, many of whom may live for months or years, describe a complex tension between weighing the benefits of opioids, which are considered a cornerstone of pain management in serious illness, and serious opioid-related harms like opioid misuse and OUD. And yet, little literature exists to inform the management of opioid misuse and OUDs among individuals with serious illness. Our objective is to provide evidence-based management guidance to clinicians caring for individuals with serious illness who develop opioid misuse or OUD.

Methods and Analysis

We chose a modified Delphi approach, which is appropriate when empirical evidence is lacking and expert input must be used to shape clinical guidance. We sought to recruit 60 clinicians with expertise in palliative care, addiction or both to participate in this study. We created seven patient cases that capture important management challenges in individuals with serious illness prescribed opioid therapy. We used ExpertLens, an online platform for conducting modified Delphi panels. Participants completed three rounds of data collection. In round 1, they rated and commented on the appropriateness of management choices for cases. In round 2, participants reviewed and discussed their own and other participants' round 1 numerical responses and comments. In round 3 (currently ongoing), participants again reviewed rounds 1 and 2, and are allowed to change their final numerical responses. We used ExpertLens to automatically identify whether there is consensus, or disagreement, among responses in panels. Only round 3 responses will be used to assess final consensus and disagreement.

Ethics and Dissemination

This project received ethical approval from the University of Pittsburgh's Institutional Review Board (study 19110301) and the RAND Institutional Research Board (study 2020-0142). Guidance from this work will be disseminated through national stakeholder networks to gain buy-in and endorsement. This study will also form the basis of an implementation toolkit for clinicians caring for individuals with serious illness who are at risk of opioid misuse or OUD.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation External publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

Our mission to help improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis is enabled through our core values of quality and objectivity and our unwavering commitment to the highest level of integrity and ethical behavior. To help ensure our research and analysis are rigorous, objective, and nonpartisan, we subject our research publications to a robust and exacting quality-assurance process; avoid both the appearance and reality of financial and other conflicts of interest through staff training, project screening, and a policy of mandatory disclosure; and pursue transparency in our research engagements through our commitment to the open publication of our research findings and recommendations, disclosure of the source of funding of published research, and policies to ensure intellectual independence. For more information, visit

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.